Israeli police and security officials have announced the discovery of a right-wing network of “Jewish terrorists” in the occupied West Bank, saying they have arrested several accused of plotting and enacting attacks against Palestinians and their homes.
On Wednesday, representatives of Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet revealed they had apprehended several members of a “Jewish terrorist network” in the Palestinian territories over the past few weeks. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the group includes six settlers and an Israeli soldier who reportedly confessed to tossing a tear gas grenade into the home of a Palestinian family and throwing firebombs at another house in Mazraa al-Qabliyah.
[The suspects admitted to] widespread terrorist activity.
“[The suspects admitted to] widespread terrorist activity,” Shin Bet said in a statement. “…Including attempted terrorist attacks on homes of Palestinians while the occupants were inside, attacking minorities, arson and vandal assaults on Palestinian vehicles, and stone throwing from a passing car at Palestinian vehicles.”
Security officials believe the detainees — five of whom are residents of Nahliel, an Israeli settlement near the West Bank city of Ramallah — were inspired by the fatal firebombing of a Palestinian home in 2015. The blaze, which took place in Duma, killed a father and his 18-month-old son as they slept, and vandals spray-painted a house wall with a Star of David and the Hebrew word for “Revenge!”
The deaths sparked outrage across the West Bank, leading to the arrest of Jewish settlers affiliated with an extremist group calling itself “the Revolt.” The organization espouses an apocalyptic theology that advocates for the destruction of the Israeli government in order to establish an archaic Jewish kingdom in its place. According to documents disseminated by members, this goal is to be achieved by systematically attacking Israeli soldiers and non-Jews: officials recovered a how-to manual with detailed instructions for how to attack churches, mosques, and Palestinian homes — as well as how to beat Arabs unconscious.
Officials said there were links between the Nahliel group and the Revolt.
“Like the members of the Revolt, the Nahliel group acted out of extreme ideology and out of a readiness to harm Palestinians to the point of murdering them,” the statement said, according to the New York Times.
The groups are a part of a violent, multi-year movement among young, ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in non-Palestinian settlements and unsanctioned outposts in the occupied West Bank.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, young settlers in their teens and twenties formulated the “Price Tag” doctrine, or a policy that calls on Jewish settlers in the West Bank to exact revenge — a “price” — against Palestinians or Israeli security forces who take action against settlements, such as tearing down homes the Israeli government doesn’t support (all settlements in the region are illegal according to international law and illegitimate according to the U.S. government, but Israel sanctions many established settlements). Although unpopular with the Israeli public and largely devoid of any formal religious support from rabbis, devotees of the movement began enacting violence to show their devotion to the cause, usually by burning Muslim mosques.
They’re both activists and they reject the state, the rule of law, and civic morality.
The scope of their attacks began to change in February 2015, however, when part of a Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem was burned and vandalized with anti-Christian graffiti. A few months later, another blaze destroyed much of the Church of Multiplication, a Christian holy site erected to mark the spot where Jesus is said to have fed 5,000 followers with only five loaves of bread and two fish, according to the biblical story. The perpetrators painted ominous messages on the charred walls, such as “Idols will have their heads cut off.”
Shlomo Fischer, a professor at Hebrew University and expert on right-wing Jewish movements, told ThinkProgress last August that the shift signaled the fusion of violent Zionism and ultra-Orthodox Judaism, the latter of which is traditionally passionate but peaceful. Describing the movement as “fringe of a fringe,” Fischer acknowledged that their influence is nonetheless growing, even as they preach a contested vision of a Jewish kingdom that would, among other things, strictly enforce religious observance and control how women dress outside the home.
“They’re both activists and they reject the state, the rule of law, and civic morality,” Fischer said. He added that their brutal tactics have drawn widespread criticism from the Israeli population and Jewish Rabbis who believe their methods are anything but Jewish, just as Muslims and Christians often disavow members of their own religion who try to justify violence by invoking God. But Fischer said the attackers — who believe their actions are “pure” — are unlikely to care, primarily because “they think the Rabbis have sold out.”
The arrests come at a time of unusually heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Since fall 2015, dozens of Palestinian youth have brutally stabbed Israeli citizens and soldiers in a series of bloody assaults that often end with the attacker dying in a hail of Israeli bullets. The volatile atmosphere has also led some Israeli soldiers to open fire on Palestinians in incidents that human rights groups such as Amnesty International say are unjustifiable, classifying the killings as “extrajudicial executions.”
Things worsened on Monday when a bus suddenly exploded in Jerusalem, wounding 20 people. The Israeli government has since announced that the incident was a suicide attack carried out by a member of the militant group Hamas, and officials have already arrested several men they believe are connected to with blast.